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Emu Field is overshadowed by Maralinga, the larger and much more prominent British atomic test site about 193 kilometres to the south. But Emu Field has its own secrets, and the fact that it was largely forgotten makes it more intriguing. Only at Emu Field did a terrifying black mist speed across the land after an atomic bomb detonation, bringing death and sickness to Aboriginal populations in its path. Emu Field was difficult and inaccessible. So why did the British go there at all, when they knew that they wouldn't stay? What happened to the air force crew who flew through the atomic clouds? And why is Emu Field considered the 'Marie Celeste' of atomic test sites, abandoned quickly after the expense and effort of setting it up?
Elizabeth Tynan, the award-winning author of Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, reveals a story of a cataclysmic collision between an ancient Aboriginal land and the post-war Britain of Winston Churchill and his gung-ho scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann. The presence of local Anangu people did not interfere with Churchill's geopolitical aims and they are still paying the price. The British undertook Operation Totem at Emu Field under cover of extreme remoteness and secrecy, a shroud of mystery that continues to this day.
'The question 'why weren't we told?' is heard far too frequently in relation to Australian history, particularly in reference to Aboriginal histories. Tales of dispossession, death, destruction, and disadvantage are regularly greeted with a refrain of 'we didn't know'. In this meticulously researched book, the award-winning author of Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, Elizabeth Tynan presents us with the shocking story of the two atomic tests and five minor trials performed at Emu Field, South Australia, in the 1950s. The black mist released from the cruelly named 'Operation Totem' can now be seen by all. Tynan's razor-sharp prose and forensic level historical research jolt the reader from any comfort or certainty and ensure that going forward Emu Field will be remembered alongside Maralinga as sites of treachery, suffering, and anxiety on the long road towards healing.' - Professor Lynette Russell AM, Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellow, Monash University
'This is an important and well written book. It brings back from the far edges of living memory the extraordinary story of Britain's atomic bomb tests in Australia. Emu Field was the site of the first two explosions on the Australian mainland in October 1953. Elizabeth Tynan uncovers much of the story which is still surrounded by walls of secrecy. She uncovers a saga of British recklessness and an indifference to the long-term consequences of the tests. The reader is left with a revealing glimpse of the Australian government's lazy complicity and deference to Britain. The difficulty we had then in dealing with our 'great and powerful friends' is still with us.' - Henry Reynolds